I’ve been a huge fan of David Almond ever since I encountered his debut novel Skellig back when it all began in 1998. He is a prolific author and I always discover after the event that he has produced another. Such was the case with this book – his fifteenth novel – and (as it turns out) his first for adults. His first novel for adults it may be but it is still unmistakably Almond here, and I would recommend it to any of his younger readers.
David Almond’s books have a distinctive style about them. I like to say they are deftly written; sparse but effective language to carry a powerful, often hard-hitting story. This is a story that is probably as powerful and hard-hitting as they come. The title character of the book, the Monster Billy Dean, is anything but a monster. He is a boy born on the same day as a devastating terrorist attack.
The book, is one of two halves with a short epilogue. The first, and best half is almost entirely shut away in the house where Billy lives with his mother, with night-time visits from his father, a priest. It’s a story of child- and domestic-abuse and is unflinching in its portrayal. Billy Dean is illiterate, and as this story is his story, written through his eyes, they are his words. I opened the book up to page one and thought I was reading Chaucer for it is written, not just in phonetic English, but Geordie Phonetic English. I thought that this was going to be a book that was going to be hard-going, but once you get used to it (surprisingly quickly), it is actually really easy to read.
The second half of the book sees Billy coming out in the world, transformed by the bombings and we are introduced to more characters. Here, in this world, Billy is seen as a messiah-like figure to heal people, and the book takes on the nature of religion and faith.